Article by Dr. Weeks – 1989
Recently, both Time and Newsweek reported a Chinese burn cure made from bee products including raw honey. They reported that fifty thousand Chinese burn patients have been treated with a honey salve in China’s national Burn Treatment Center. “Photographs document the progress of patients who have come with deep second‑degree and superficial third‑degree burns covering up to 94% of their bodies. Within months the same patients appear not only healed but virtually unscarred”
Last year, I traveled to China to meet the “burn doctors” and many of the patients. There I saw and compared, on the same patient, parts of the body treated previously with conventional care versus parts treated with the honey salve. The conventional treatment left the skin rough, scarred and marked with patches of excessive or reduced pigmentation. This is in marked contrast to the honey treated skin which, though just as charred in the original photographs, appeared supple and unblemished.
There are many remarkable advantages of using honey instead of conventional salves on burnt tissue. One advantage involves dressing changes. Typically with salves other than honey, each time the dressing is changed, the salve must be scraped off. This is horrendously painful for the patient. Experienced trauma nurses claim that changing dressings on child burn patients is the most heart wrenching work they do. In stark contrast, changing the honey dressing is painless because it simply lifts off effortlessly. This is because the honey converts to hydrogen peroxide and water neither of which stick to tissue. No scraping. No pain. Patients clearly prefer honey to other salves. Nurses too are relieved to offer the painless honey dressings and spare themselves the heartache of scraping other salves off of severely burnt skin.
The ingredients of Moist Burn Ointment (MBO) remain secret while the “inventor”, a doctor Xu Rongxiang, seeks an international patent. He claims it contains “honey, bees wax, sesame oil and herbal ingredients”. Any beekeeper can see right through that ointment. Make no mistake. It is the raw honey which is the medicine here.
Raw honey has a long history of being used for topical care of burns, ulcers and a great variety of skin problems. A coating of honey is deceptively complex but has been thoroughly studied. Scientists have described the biochemistry of honey and explained its analgesic, anti‑bacterial and tissue nutritive factors . Coating a wound with honey retards tissue oxygenation by sealing the wound off from air (oxygen). This dampens the pain within 30 seconds after application. In addition, the antibacterial factors in raw honey sterilize the wound. These factors include:
- The hydroscopic nature of honey (steals water from the bacteria which then dry up).
- Making the local tissue pH too acid for bacteria to grow
- Inhibine (aka hydrogen peroxide) converted from glucose by glucose oxidase and gluconic acid).
- Enzymes (growth factors?) and tissue nutritive minerals vitamins of honey help repair the tissue directly.
China is a land of mystery to Americans. Therefore, Dr. Xu’s “Chinese” ointment gets good press coverage. Let the record clearly state, however, that honey had been used as a surgical dressing and a burn dressing all over the world since history was recorded. “The ancient Egyptians used it as a surgical dressing. The Papyrus Ebers recommended that wounds be covered for four days with linens dipped in honey and incense”. Hippocrates, father of madern medicine, prescribed it for boils, abscesses and burns. The famous Greek physician, Dioscorides, prescribed it for cuts in the Materia Medica, medicine’s oldest handbook. Galen offered a honey and oil enema. Charles Butler writing in the Middle Ages praised Unguentum Aegyptiacum, a plaster made from honey, vinegar and wintergreen which would “open, clean, dry and digest all inflammations and resist putrefaction”. Dr. Aughinbaugh reports that the natives of the Amazon region “suture” extensive lesions by placing beetles so that they bite the wound together with powerful mandibles. Whereupon they snap off the beetle’s heads and coat the wound with honey. Results were described as “excellent”.
More recently, in the British Journal of Surgery, Dr. S. Efem described fifty‑nine patients with wounds and ulcers 80% of which had failed to respond to conventional treatments. Fifty‑eight of these showed remarkable improvement following topical application of raw honey. (The one which did not respond was later diagnosed as a Buruli ulcer.) Wounds that were sterile at the outset remained sterile until healed while wounds that were infected at first became fully sterile within one week of topical application of raw honey. Honey debrided wounds rapidly, replacing sloughs with healthy granulations tissue. It also promoted faster than normal epithelization and absorption of edema from the ulcer margins .
Closer to home, Dr. Denis Cavanagh, Chairman of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at St. Louis University School of Medicine, used honey to accelerate the time required for wound healing after a common surgical procedure (radical vulvectomy with bilateral groin and pelvic lymphadenectomy) . He had first performed in vitro (in test tube) studies of honey’s anti‑bacterial effects. Bacterial pathogens which were destroyed by raw honey include the following common troublemakers: E. Coli, Aerobacter aerogenes, Clostridium perfringens, Proteus mirabilis, Staphylococcus aureua, Pseudomonas aeroginosa and Streptococcus faecalis.
Dr. Cavanaugh then proceeded to treat 12 patients. He reports: “All wound infections responded promptly. Wounds were bacteriologically sterile within three to six days and remained so until completely united”. He concluded: “Undiluted (raw) honey is bacteriocidal and will not support the growth of pathogenic bacteria commonly encountered in wound healing. Moreover, its application is followed by considerable chemical debridement which reduces the necessity for surgical debridement. Honey appears to be non‑irritant and its use promotes the rapid growth of healthy granulation tissue….In our experience, honey is much more efficacious than the expensive topical antibiotics which we used previously… With this technique the modal time patients have remained in the hospital has been reduced from seven to eight to three to four weeks”. 
Dr. B.R. Norton wrote me in 1989 about honey as a surgical dressing from his practice in from Saskatchewan, Canada. “During the years 1980‑1983 I worked in an 1800 bed hospital in the Natal Province of South Africa. At that time we used honey dressings to treat bed sores and venous stasis ulcers. Although no formal trials were conducted, this treatment worked extremely well and was often used.” Recently in Paris France, I was told that the standard care for burns at the Centre de Brule (Burn Center) of the Couchen Hospital was raw honey.
In my practice, in addition to conventional treatments, I offer patients the option of using raw honey to treat the following problems: conjunctivitis (pink eye), sore throat, burns, ulcers and everyday cuts and scrapes. I am not the only doctor recommending this folk remedy. An Emergency Room in Michigan has a jug of honey labled: “For burns and cuts only. Do not eat.!” (Apparantly the docs and nurses were helping themselves.) The carpenters and other of my patients who abuse their hands in their work now routinely treat themselves with honey and report accelerated healing times. Housewives who burn themselves over the stove report immediate pain relief and avoidance of scars when promptly treated with honey.
Today we read about the high cost of health care, the technological oppression of patient by machine, the high cost of drugs borne mostly by the elderly and now we’re reading about honey. Raw honey. It is commonly available and quite cheap. Never mind that it takes nectar from 30 million flowers to make one pound of honey, that pound of honey sells for approximately $1.00. Can you think of a better bargain!
Next time you get a cut or a burn, or next time (if you’re a nurse or surgeon) you try gingerly to change the dressing of a child suffering from 2nd or 3rd degree burns, think about raw honey. Remember that long ago the Greeks used a honey ointment, “epomphalia”, to prevent infection when they cut their newborn’s umbilical cords. Ask yourself, “What did they know that I don’t?”
To Your Health!
Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. © 1989
And here is some updated research of interest.
Topical Honey Application vs. Acyclovir for the Treatment of Recurrent Herpes Simplex Lesions.
Med Sci Monit, 2004; 10 (8) Al Waili, N.S. Dubai UAE
“Two cases of labial herpes and one case of genital herpes remitted completely with the use of honey.”
For labial herpes, the mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 35%, 39%, 28% and 43% better, respectively, than with acyclovir treatment.
For genital herpes, the mean duration of attacks and pain, occurrence of crusting, and mean healing time with honey treatment were 53%, 50%, 49% and 59% better, respectively than with acyclovir treatment.
“Topical honey application is safe and effective in the management of the signs and symptoms of recurrent lesions from labial and genital herpes.”
Comparative Costs: Acyclovir $3,810.00 / pound vs. Raw Honey $15.00 / pound
Honey May Prevent Recurring Tumors
Dr. Ismail Hamzaoglu Istanbul University Dec 2004, Archives of Surgery.
A Mayo Clinic cancer expert said the results, though preliminary, are
“too fascinating to be dismissed.”
From the Finnish Creation Myth “The Kalavala”, Rune 15 Lemminkainen at Tuonela River The Mother of the Universe and all Creation seeks the dead body of her son named Lemminkainen (Finland’s equivalent to Thor) in the river Tuonela where he has perished. She creates a huge iron rake to drag the depths of this mighty river and collects the dismembered pieces of her waterlogged son.
Who ya gonna call?
She calls for the honeybee to…
“Go forth and fetch me honey,
go forth to seek for honey,
back from Metsola’s fair meadows,
from the cup of many a flower,
and the plumes of grasses many,
as an ointment for the patient,
and to quite restore the sick one”.
“Then did Lemminkainen’s mother
raise it to her mouth and taste it.
With her tongue the ointment tasted,
With the greatest care she proved it.
“Tis the ointment that I needed,
and the salve of the Almighty,
used when Jumula the Highest,
The Creator heals all suffering”.